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July 14, 2010

Ramadan, a fasting and festive season for Muslims

Ayub A. Hamid

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The appearance of the new moon on the North American horizon on August 9 starts the holy month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.

Ramadan has very special significance for more than 1 billion Muslims around the world.

It was one night during Ramadan that the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) started receiving the revelation of the Word of God through Archangel Gabriel.

Muhammad (PBUH) was spending time in seclusion in the cave of Hira worshipping, meditating, and reflecting upon the plight of humanity when Angel Gabriel appeared to him with the first revelation.

Caught by surprise, Muhammad (PBUH) was frightened and shaken. He soon recovered from the initial shock and the revelations continued over the next 23 years. These revelations constitute the Qur’an, which we Muslims believe to be the precise, literal Word of God.

For Muslims, the Qur’an is the fundamental source of divine guidance and a complete code of life.

It is also seen as a living miracle that non-Muslims of any time, era or age can experience until the Last Day.

Although Muslims are required to read and benefit from the Qur’an daily, recitations from it become much more important during Ramadan.

Muslims try to read the entire Qur’an at least once during this month. At night, Muslims are encouraged to offer special prayers with extra readings from the Qur’an.

Mosques arrange special services led by the Muslims who know the Qur’an by heart. They recite it to the congregation in approximately equal parts to finish it within the nights of Ramadan.

The most important feature of Ramadan is fasting.

The fast prohibits all eating, drinking, and sexual activity from dawn to sunset every day for the entire month. No intake into one’s body, not even a sip of water, is allowed during this period.

The normal satisfaction of bodily needs can be resumed, in moderation, each evening after sunset.

To help them with their fast during the day, people are also strongly encouraged to have some food and drink every day around 5 a.m. before dawn, the starting time for the fast.

No one is required to fast while sick, travelling or menstruating. Such people, however, must fast for the missed days when they are less vulnerable.

The fast, however, is much more than a restriction on bodily appetites. The fast is intended to prevail over all our senses. It is to help us guard against seeing, hearing or even contemplating any undesirable activity.

Behaviours that are normally undesirable and unlawful for a Muslim become even more offensive and sinful during fasting. Lying, jealousy, arguments, fighting, use of abusive language, harsh words, gossiping, vain talk are some of the things which observant Muslims always try to avoid.

These kinds of undesirable behaviours are avoided extra-carefully when fasting during Ramadan. Forgiveness, graciousness and generosity are the kinds of qualities Islam strongly encourages in its followers at all times. They become even more important during fasting.

This wholesome concept of fasting is designed to train Muslims to practise restraint, to resist temptations, to control their emotions, and to get rid of undesirable traits they may have acquired throughout the year.

In fact, fasting can have a profound effect on human behaviour if practised properly.

Just imagine what a splendid society we would have if every human being learned to control his or her urges, desires and lusts.

After all, aren’t most crimes and social problems caused by a lack of control over one’s behaviour?

Fasting is an act of worship with no outwardly visible manifestations.

Whether someone is fasting or just pretending, only God knows. This inconspicuousness gives fasting a special role in character building.

When a fasting believer endures hunger and thirst all day, he or she feels the presence of God more intensely. Subconsciously, the faster becomes increasingly aware of God’s infinite knowledge of our motives, intentions, ideas and actions.

As this awareness grows and becomes part of the faster’s personality, he becomes more vigilant over his own actions and intentions. In this way, fasting reforms the person from the inside.

Although fasting is beneficial as an individual act, its benefits multiply when an entire community fasts together for a month.

It creates a communal environment in which personal reformation and discipline becomes easier and more effective. During the fasting season, the Muslims gather socially in the evenings to break the fast together.

They also spend more time worshipping together in the mosques. All this social interaction creates stronger bonds among community members.

Ramadan is also the month in which charity, an important theme in the Qur’an, is most strongly emphasized.

Fasting is intended to remind Muslims of the importance of helping fellow human beings. The pangs of hunger during the day remind the fasters of the agony of the deprived and starving people of the world. Being charitable both financially and socially is a life-long responsibility of a Muslim, but one which he or she must make a top priority during this month.

The month of Ramadan, thus, provides a holistic and comprehensive training program for human personality.

The human personality has three dimensions: physiological, psychological and spiritual. All of the three dimensions are developed through Ramadan’s wholesome training in excellence.

Abstinence from physical needs during the day and reduction of sleep at night brings human urges under control and fine-tunes the physiological systems. Resisting temptations trains people psychologically. And, the fact that fasting, extra worship and charity are only for God’s pleasure make the whole thing a superb spiritual experience that is further enhanced by Qur’anic recitations.

From a macro perspective, a society is made up of individuals who interact socially and economically. Fasting influences both individuals and their interactions. It is a very private act of worship. Yet it works to strengthen the social bonds and takes care of the economic needs of the deprived segments of the society.

So, however you look at it, Ramadan is a month of blessings and virtues. The goodness of humanity blossoms like flowers in spring. If all Muslims start fasting in the proper spirit of Ramadan, Muslim society will be at peace within itself and its surroundings and all humanity will benefit.

Ayub A. Hamid is president of the Canadian Institute of Policy Studies. His writings are available at his personal website --

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